Finding IT talent in a skills desert

August 31, 20164 Minute Read

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In our constantly evolving digital age—where tech and business demands grow daily with the pressure to adapt and disrupt—the IT skills gap is impacting companies of all sizes. Even the skeptics at Harvard Business Review report that almost 40 percent of employers are having trouble filling open seats, and the issue is getting worse year after year.

Blame it on the speed of innovation in industry. Technology is changing too fast for educational institutions and employees to keep up. The struggle to balance a full IT workload with constant learning is real. The result is unfilled job postings for months on end, stressed-out talent who fill the gaps, and sliding project deadlines.

Some research even indicates that the growing skills gap might be worse for small and midsized companies. Some 80 percent of small companies report issues filling vacant positions. Truthfully, everyone is suffering to get stuff done in an age where talent is short and wage pressures are sky-high. We can’t solve the lack of needed pros overnight—but building up our key IT leaders, outsourcing, and supporting programs that foster skill development can make a difference. Here’s hot to look the IT skills gap in the eye.

1. Grow your tech leaders

When it comes to millennial tech leadership, we’re about to reach a tipping point. Ten thousand members of the Baby Boomer generation are reaching retirement age each day. Currently, millennials hold just 20 percent of leadership positions, though they’re the most represented segment of the workforce. As highly seasoned tech leaders reach retirement age, organizations could face a shortage of talent with the necessary experience to take on management, directorship, and C-level seats.

PwC’s study on millennials at work found that millennials are seeking training and development (22 percent) from their management—even more than they want flexible hours (19 percent). While mentoring and training are important, most of what make a strong leader stems directly from experience. Entrepreneur writes that experiences become commodities because they invite new insights and are platforms to new ideas. The Society for Human Resource Management says that a tech leadership development program with impact is likely to be:

  • Formalized: A formal program gives you the power to create standardized processes, implement a system of continuous improvement, and reap the recruitment benefits.
  • Systematic: Look beyond skills and experiences as check boxes to build a program that addresses the skills, competencies, attitudes, and perspectives needed.
  • Tailored: Each member or potential member of your development program should be assigned individual goals and metrics to assess progress.
  • Experientially based: While mentor relationships and classroom sessions have value, one of the most critical ways to create experiences can be by providing work-based opportunities that aren’t a drill.

2. Look outside

If you’re struggling to fill vacant seats with internal talent or traditional job postings, the solution could be to turn to independent contractors. The freelancer economy is currently more than 15 million strong and could account for up to 40 percent of the US workforce by 2020. Today’s professional freelancers aren’t necessarily low-skilled or otherwise hard to employ. The PwC study found that millennials place high value on freedom at work and work/life balance. Some top talent simply prefers to work from wherever, as contractors—instead of committing to a traditional office setting.

Tech journalist Steve Smith reports that 84 percent of tech hiring managers have seen an increased demand among candidates for temporary or contract gigs. Connecting with “super contractors” to fill critical gaps in projects or skills could be an increasingly popular solution in the years to come, as more of the tech workforce chooses to join the freelance economy. While this shouldn’t be considered over of internal training and development programs, it’s a good needs-based possibility.

3. Get proactive about skills development

Not every developer has aspirations of becoming CTO, and that’s okay. Being a CTO is hard. Tech leaders need to lead the charge in proactive skills development. Soft skills and experience aren’t always enough for tech workers to stay competitive. Constant learning is key, and it needs to be a part of your culture.

In some cases, IT pros may realize that the current way of thinking about professional development simply isn’t working. Global manufacturer Hitachi saw the value in continuous learning and fostering a culture of skills development, partnering with Cornerstone OnDemand. With this talent management software, Hitachi can go beyond transactional learning and equip its 350,000 employees across nearly 1,000 group companies with the latest and current skills and knowledge

Every IT pro secretly worries that the IT skills gap could reach a boiling point. Fortunately, progress isn’t likely to come to a full stop, especially for the brands that tap into new sources of talent or boost their skills pipeline.

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